Fear, Force, and Leather: The Texas Prison System&rsquot;s First Hundred Years 1848-1948
Introduction
Rough Beginnings, 1849-1861
War and Collapse, 1861-1871
The Lease Era, 1871-1883
Convict Leasing, 1883-1909
Scandal and Reform, 1909-1911
Perpetual Inquiry, 1911-1927
Reform and Reaction, 1927-1948
Online Finding Aids
For Further Reading
Contact Us
More Exhibits

 

The Lease Era 1871-1883

Page 1 2 3

The Cunningham & Ellis Era

To avoid the earlier problems, the state mandated Cunningham & Ellis to maintain the prison in good repair and provided guidelines for feeding, clothing, and punishing the prisoners. The 1879 legislature authorized the governor to appoint a revamped three-man board of directors and a supervisor who would directly manage the guards, enforce discipline and ensure humane treatment of the prisoners, maintain the books and accounts, and write monthly reports. An assistant supervisor would do the same for the outside work camps. The state implemented good conduct rules by which a prisoner could earn time off his sentence.

Learn More

Learn more about Thomas J. Goree, the prison superintendent who insisted that Texas adopt new ideas from the emerging fields of penology and criminology.

Cunningham & Ellis made improvements to the food and the hospital at Huntsville and undertook repairs and new construction, including a brick wall that completely enclosed the prison. Most of the prisoners were put to work on sugar or cotton plantations, with a handful working on railroad construction, the building of Rusk prison, wood-chopping, or in prison shops. For the first time, the prison became profitable.

Statements on the death of Frank Furlow,  January 1877

D.M. Short to Governor Roberts, July 1879

However, continued reports of brutality made a mockery of the system in the eyes of the public. In 1882, the Legislature revoked Cunningham & Ellis’s lease and awarded contracts to several different companies.

The leasing system collapsed in 1883 when the newspaper Texas Siftings exposed the “kegs of beer, demijohns of whiskey, and black cigars” that had been used to bribe legislators to award the new contracts and turn a blind eye to escapes and inhumane treatment. Some legislators had been invited to poker games and then were allowed to win large sums of money. In the aftermath of the scandal, all of the leases were terminated.

Next>>

Complete Table of Contents
Quick Links to Major Topics

 

 

Page last modified: August 22, 2011